Superstorm Sandy – Do You Need to Obtain a Variance?

With the rebuilding going on after Superstorm Sandy, many people are looking to see what permits they need to rebuild and/or renovate their houses. Many people are finding out that in order to repair, renovate or raise their houses, they may need to apply for variances due to the fact that the footprint or height of the house exceeds the setbacks imposed by the local zoning codes. Many houses were built before zoning codes were enacted. In other cases, the zoning codes have been changed since the houses were built. In any event, many people will need to apply for a variance.

There are many different types of zoning variances. The most common and the type that we will talk about here is where the house does not meet the setbacks or height restrictions imposed by the zoning codes. In essence, each town sets out a schedule as to the distances a house must be from the street, the side and rear property lines. The town will also have a schedule as to the overall height of the house. In addition to the setback variances, in some cases, due to the need to raise a house, the owner may have to seek a variance for the overall height of the house. These types of variances are called “bulk variances.”

If a house cannot be built within the zoning requirements, then the owner must apply to a municipal agency to obtain a variance from the zoning requirements. In most towns the owner must apply to the municipal zoning board of adjustment for a variance. The zoning board consists of members appointed by the governing body. Their job is to hear applications for variances and then determine whether the variances should be granted. In some towns, the zoning board and the planning board are combined into one land use board.

Whatever the board, the owner/applicant must demonstrate certain reasons for the variance to be granted. The reasons for the variances can be varied. Many people are tempted to apply for the variance on their own, without an attorney. They mistakenly believe that the zoning board “has to” grant their variance. In fact, seeking a variance is a legal proceeding requiring a thorough knowledge of the Municipal Land Use Law, zoning cases and the local zoning codes. In many cases, a professional engineer or professional planner is needed to provide expert testimony to prove the variance.

Don’t go it alone! The attorneys of R.C. Shea and Associates have over 70 years of combined experience representing applicants seeking variances before land use boards all over Ocean and Monmouth Counties. We work with engineers and planners to prepare the various application forms, prepare for and attend the hearings. Call us if you are planning to apply for a variance.

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